We all know that fruits in Japan are a bit expensive, but did you know that there is an expensive store where you can buy the best fruits for gift giving? Started way back in 1834 as a small discount shop, Sembikiya (千疋屋) is, in fact, the oldest fruit parlor currently existing in Japan. It has a few branches in the country, the main one being in Nihonbashi (日本橋) where the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo is present. You can call it a fruit parlor, but the owners of the store like to call it a “gift shop.” Let’s take a look at what it is all about!
Sembikiya was established during the early Tempo era (天保時代) by a samurai warlord named Benzo Oshima (大島弁蔵) in the Senbiki district (千疋郷) of present-day Saitama (埼玉). He began to sell fruits and vegetables in his store at a discounted price for the people in that area. However, he moved to Nihonbashi in 1867 as it has become a major commercial center at the time.
The Japanese people have always used vegetables more than fruits in their diet, thus making fruits a novelty or a gift item. That is why the idea of a fruit store became successful and Sembikiya started opening fruit cafes and sweets shops all across Japan. People started queuing up outside Sembikiya stores, thus making it popular. The owners of the store started importing fruits from overseas and tried to sell only the best and high-quality ones to customers.
Sembikiya’s main store in Mitsui Tower (三井タワー) in Nihonbashi opened in 1971 but was later closed for renovation. It was then reopened with a new interior look and other novelties in 2005, making it the modern flagship store that it is now.
Every single fruit in Sembikiya is expensive and thus can be only bought for gift giving. The store picks the world’s best “Sekai Ichi” apples from farms where they are cultivated with adequate sunshine, water, and protection. They make sure the fruits taste the same all throughout. These fruits are grown in temperature-controlled netted farms with proper care given every minute. They are picked and given a massage to get an even look and taste.
According to BuzzFeed, the prices of some of the fruits in Sembikiya in the year 2013 were as follows:
- Square watermelon – 21,000 yen
- 12 Queen strawberries – 6,825 yen
- A box of cherries – 15,750 yen
- One Sekai Ichi apple – 2,100 yen
- One Yubari cantaloupe – 15,750 yen
Some of these fruits, especially the watermelons, are sold at auctions for thousands of US dollars.
The motto of Sembikiya is to make its customers buy fruits for gift giving. The Japanese people have always sent fruits as gifts on special occasions to their loved ones or someone interesting. It is totally opposite to that of Western culture where fruits are not even seen as special or auspicious.
The Japanese people usually give gifts to their parents, children, relatives, friends, bosses, and colleagues at the middle of the year, while they give offerings to their ancestors at the end of the year. The summer gift giving is called “Ochugen (お中元),” and it is done in different months in different regions of Japan, mostly between June and August. The winter gift giving is called “Oseibo (お歳暮),” which is done only in December.
Will you buy a gift from this luxurious fruit parlor for your loved ones back home? Expensive or not, this store is definitely a must-visit. They have branches in Ginza (銀座), Haneda (羽田), and other places in Tokyo so you won’t have too difficult of a time finding one.
There are many branches, but we will introduce one of them here.